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The Media, Democracy & You

2011/10/09

In a world where digital social networking has become the norm, and businesses scramble to harness its unimaginable power, there are both good and bad things to come from this revolution of communication. I do believe the good things to come out of this technology far exceed the bad, but the bad things seem to shine a light into the sometimes surprising darkness of the human condition.

The speed in which information can be delivered in this social-media age is astounding, and yet the volume of information being thrust upon you tends to dilute the powerful messages out there. Right now, as I type this, there are thousands of people protesting corporate greed and governmental corruption all over the globe, and yet, their message appears to be lost in a sea of naysayers and snarky cartoons (not to mention cute kitten videos). I will say this again…

THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE STANDING UP AGAINST CORPORATE GREED AND GOVERNMENTAL CORRUPTION ALL OVER THE GLOBE!

Big bold letters have been used in newspaper headlines for more than a century to convey the importance of a statement. This is an important statement. Thousands of your fellow humans are struggling to understand and effect change in a system that they believe undervalues their existence as human beings. And how are they going about this? Not by taking up arms against the foe, because there is no one enemy in this issue. They do this by standing in one place, discussing the problems, trying to find understanding, and working together as an experiment in true democracy to reach that resolution.

They know that one person cannot make this change, and they know that leadership, regardless of which side of the aisle, or which flag they might fly, will not bring that change. What they do know is that change must come, and it needs to start with the people, with those people honestly discussing the problems and coming up with realistic and lasting solutions.

The part of this phenomenon that is most startling is that the so-called mainstream media has all but ignored this movement. I’ve been following this movement for weeks through Twitter, Facebook, Livestream and YouTube. There are a few notable exceptions, but, by and large, no major media outlet had anything to say about this movement until YouTube was flooded with videos of New York City Police Department officers pepper spraying, arresting and in some cases using excessive force to detain peaceful, unarmed protesters. This tells me that it isn’t news unless there’s blood, proving the shark-like reputation we’ve all complained about. And yet, we, as a people, showed no interest in this movement until there was blood in the water. Is the mainstream media only feeding our bloodlust for the purpose of ratings and advertising dollars?

There is another disturbing aspect of the events surrounding this movement, and that’s what it tells us about our past. Is this a new phenomenon in journalism, or has it always been there and technology is only now removing the veil of deceit? Anyone who has ever been involved in a “news event” can tell you that this is not new. Anyone with an interest in history can tell you that it’s not even in the realm of new, and that biased reporting has been in place since the invention of the written word. Examples in history proving the power of biased “reporting” are the different versions of the Bible, William Randolph Hearst, and the propaganda machines employed by many governments over the years, including the United States.

So, if the media is being controlled by other interests, are we left to rely on the world of social media to get the information from the ground of these developing events? Unfortunately, bias can also be found all over the social media platform, not to mention the feeling of protection the anonymity of the cyber realm gives people to say anything without repercussion or having to back it up.

All of this gives the “consumer” two choices; to narrow their focus to only include that which supports their preconceptions, or to slag through it all to discover the truth from the chaos for themselves. Sadly, the former appears to be the popular response of the day, and I can understand why; it’s easier and familiar, and it doesn’t shake you from the foundations of your own beliefs. But the only honest way to be informed is to look at every side of an issue and come to your own logical conclusion based on the facts, with careful consideration of the consequences of all actions, and with the needs of all taken into that consideration.

I know it sounds like a lot of work, but an informed consensus is the basis upon which the philosophy of democracy was built. And as hard as it is, you can’t just ignore that which you don’t like or don’t agree with, because history has taught us that this will only lead to a horrible end. When we stick our heads in the sand and pretend everything is fine, that is when we lose our liberties, our rights, and in the most dire consequences, our lives.

Perhaps the clearest way to explain the purpose of democracy is to use the same information we teach to others in our promotion of democracy.

“In a democracy, every citizen has certain basic rights that the state cannot take away from them.  These rights are internationally recognized and guaranteed.  Everyone has the right to have their own beliefs, including their religious beliefs, and to say and write what they think.  Everyone has the right to seek different sources of information and ideas.  Everyone has the right to associate with other people, and to form and join organizations of their own choice, including trade unions.  Everyone has the right to assemble and to protest government actions.  However, citizens have an obligation to exercise these rights peacefully, with respect for the law and for the rights of others.” [Diamond, L.; Hoover Institution, Stanford University]

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